ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School District is the latest school system to roll out new courses on sex trafficking, mental health and drug abuse for middle and high school students.
According to the Florida Department of Education, in the 2017-2018 school year, schools in Duval County reported more than 400 incidents involving drug use, St. Johns County had more than 70 incidents and Clay County had more than 80.
The Florida State Board of Education is now requiring schools to talk about these issues -- and other tough topics -- with students in the classroom.
State board rules passed this year require five hours of instruction related to mental and emotional health for students from 6th to 12th grade and annual education on substance abuse and child trafficking for kindergartners all the way to high school seniors.
“I think it’s a very good idea. Kids are dealing with a lot of problems and the families and everything," said Ray Favret, a grandparent of a St. Johns County middle school student. “I’m all for it.”
Duval and Clay counties are among school districts already implementing the courses.
St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson sent a letter to parents this week announcing the classes would be rolled out in St. Johns County before the end of the school year.
St. Johns County has developed several different classes that will tackle sex trafficking, mental health issue and rising use of vaping inside classrooms. The district said it was focused on being age-appropriate.
“What we say to with a kindergartner and elementary school student is going to be much different than what we talk about with an 11th or 12th grader, and rightfully so,” said Kyle Dresbeck, associate superintendent for Student Support Services in St. Johns County.
Dresbeck said one of the lessons on drug abuse will focus on the rising trend of vaping.
“We see that more and more, when we have students that we bring in for other instances, a lot of times they will have an electronic cigarette or vaping device,” Dresback said.
In all the courses, St. Johns County officials said they are focusing on personal safety and knowing the responsible adults students can confide in on campus.
“Twenty percent of students are reporting they have either gone through or are in the midst of a mental health situation. That’s one-fifth,” Dresback said. “You look at a typical classroom size, that’s five out of 25 students.”
All the Florida school districts were given some flexibility in how to execute the lessons.
Duval County has incorporated the lessons into the wellness Wednesday programing.
St. Johns County has computer course work, outside organizations coming in to speak to students on sex trafficking and counselors facilitating with younger students. The district is using a video created by Stanford to talk about health risks associated with vaping.
Forson said during the second semester, each K-8 academy, middle and high school will modify its schedule on five days to complete the five-hour requirements.
Forson said the instruction is required by the state and students cannot opt out.
More information can be found on the St. Johns County School District’s website.